Voice Over Education Blog

December 2016

Using Peripheral Vision in VO – that is, in the wider sense


In a recent article, we discussed how to enhance your script-reading ability by using peripheral vision. To review explicitly why it’s helpful: it enables you to see the big picture and avoid mistakes. By anticipating what’s next, seeing more of the line helps everything flow, thereby making you feel more comfortable.

Maybe that’s so obvious that it goes without saying. But the obvious things in life are sometimes the very things that benefit from fresh discussion. So, let’s enlarge our view still further, and (with a full sense of the irony) focus on the various other ways your voice-over performance and business can benefit from exercising peripheral vision.

We’ll segue here by addressing another aspect of performance ...

Use peripheral vision not just to see what’s coming next in the copy, but also see what visual cues might exist in your acting environment. Are you working with a director on the other side of the glass? Intent on listening to you, they might seem to be ignoring you ... but they might instead be smiling at you and directing while you speak -- as does an orchestra conductor. A conductor doesn’t hum the tune or lead the musicians through every note (it’s the musicians’ job to already know the notes and play them with feeling). But a conductor will sometimes indicate a change of pace or subtle shift in mood, or confirm that things are going well. Similarly, the voice-over Director might indicate that you could use more smile, or they might play the role of the person you’re speaking to, or indicate that they like that little thing you just did.

How can you look at both them and the copy? Peripheral vision.

Building your voice-over career is like building your body


So, there we were in a waiting room – waiting – and the choice of reading material was Boring Stuff Monthly and Men’s Health. Already bored, and always seeking to better ourselves personally, we thumbed through Men’s Health. And, glorioski, there among ads for power powders and articles about tightening your whatevers, was an article about improving your performance in voice-over!

Well, not exactly. The article was about body workouts. But although the editors at Men’s Health didn’t know it, their guide was also important to all VO professionals, whatever gender.

The numbered headers are from the article. The rest of the text is ours.

1. Quit obsessing over how you look.

Stop obsessing over how you sound. By and large, casting people and VO clients are not looking for gorgeous voices. To paraphrase the tunafish commercial, “They don’t want people who sound good, they want people who communicate good.” (Pardon our fractured English there.) Your voice should be pleasant (truly obnoxious sounds are rarely desired, even for an obnoxious character), but how you say a line is more important than just how you sound. There is much to be said for technique, but above all, first of all, especially when you’re starting out ... just talk. Don’t feel you have to sound like a voice-over, an actor, a great voice, full voice, or anything that you don’t sound like in everyday conversation. That’s especially important when you’re starting out. But with many people it’s just the opposite. Something in the subconscious makes them come across at least a little bit affected. And they finally learn to ignore that impulse only later in their new career.

The more important obsessions are: Are you understandable? Do you sound motivated? Are you motivating? Do you know what you’re talking about? Are you being natural?

Building your voice-over career is like building your body


So, there we were in a waiting room – waiting – and the choice of reading material was Boring Stuff Monthly and Men’s Health. Already bored, and always seeking to better ourselves personally, we thumbed through Men’s Health. And, glorioski, there among ads for power powders and articles about tightening your whatevers, was an article about improving your performance in voice-over!

Well, not exactly. The article was about body workouts. But although the editors at Men’s Health didn’t know it, their guide was also important to all VO professionals, whatever gender.

The numbered headers are from the article. The rest of the text is ours.

1. Quit obsessing over how you look.

Stop obsessing over how you sound. By and large, casting people and VO clients are not looking for gorgeous voices. To paraphrase the tunafish commercial, “They don’t want people who sound good, they want people who communicate good.” (Pardon our fractured English there.) Your voice should be pleasant (truly obnoxious sounds are rarely desired, even for an obnoxious character), but how you say a line is more important than just how you sound. There is much to be said for technique, but above all, first of all, especially when you’re starting out ... just talk. Don’t feel you have to sound like a voice-over, an actor, a great voice, full voice, or anything that you don’t sound like in everyday conversation. That’s especially important when you’re starting out. But with many people it’s just the opposite. Something in the subconscious makes them come across at least a little bit affected. And they finally learn to ignore that impulse only later in their new career.

The more important obsessions are: Are you understandable? Do you sound motivated? Are you motivating? Do you know what you’re talking about? Are you being natural?

Acting a VO character is more than a vocal quirk.


Holiday Time! The perfect opportunity to observe seldom-seen family members and friends, and take inventory of all the great mannerisms and vocal types, for a lot of great new voice-over characters. Right?

Wrong. If Uncle Harry or Aunt Gladys inspire a character, great. If a quirk or habit can be integrated into a new or existing character, use it. But there’s more to character-building than an eccentricity or a quick imitation.

Character acting isn’t about being eccentric. It’s about being a character.

To be sure, we’re talking here in a different sense from the way “character actor” is sometimes defined in the movies. We all can name many wonderful character actors who sometimes steal the show with their odd behavior or unusual characteristics.

But, rather than focus on their eccentricities, focus first on their characters. Note how many of these actors often play very different characters (often supporting parts) from role to role. Some character actors are eccentric, but their characters are more than a quirk.

In contrast, consider that many leading-role actors tend to play characters relatively close to their own personalities, or a certain on-screen persona. Cary Grant might be considered such an example. For awhile, Adam Sandler and Paul Giamatti were said to be in that group, but have since (as did Grant) also shown themselves very capable of expanding out of their popular type. (And, for a classic example of the opposite approach in a career, Meryl Streep is both a lead actor and a splendid chameleon.)

We should also caution at the outset that this discussion is somewhat theoretical, and the differences might be thought of as a matter of degree, not absolute.

How to use peripheral vision in reading voice-over copy


Did you know that 99% of our vision is peripheral? It is, if we define “peripheral” as the part that we don’t see sharply, the part not captured by the central part of the retina called the “fovea.” The structure of the eye is such that the only truly sharp part would be like a large coin in the middle of a big, wide-screen TV. We see the “big picture” sharply because the eye moves around, incredibly quickly, and the brain pieces the sharp parts together in a way that would make Photoshop jealous. It’s a good thing to know. Because by expanding your peripheral vision, you can expand your ability to read copy, in several ways.

In everyday life, increasing your peripheral vision has been touted as a way to improve many things, from increasing your reading speed to combating the effect of aging on your vision. We’ll leave it to you to peruse such discussions online. Beware, peripheral vision may also be used as a way to sell software for improving it, which we haven’t evaluated and some of which might be rather dubious. (For example, although speed-reading techniques appear to work for some people, they may not work for everyone, or at least not to the same extent.)

But there are some ways to use and enhance your peripheral vision when it comes to VO.

Since we started this discussion in the literal, physiological sense, let’s stick with that. How can you use and even enhance your peripheral vision when reading copy?

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